Florida State quarterback battle rages on as the 2019 season approaches
Florida State's quarterback competition is still ongoing.
FSU coach Willie Taggart isn't tipping his hand either way with less than two weeks to go until the 2019 season opener against Boise State at TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville on Aug. 31.
"I promise you we will have a starting quarterback, and I promise you we will announce it before we play that game," Taggart said.
"But don't necessarily have a timetable when we're going to name a starting quarterback. When we feel like it's right and best that we do it, we'll do it, and like I say, I promise you I'm going to announce it, and I promise you it's going to be before the Boise game."
Redshirt sophomore James Blackman entered the fall with the first-team at quarterback
The South Bay, Fla. native started 12 games as a true freshman in 2017 after starting quarterback Deondre Francois went down with a knee injury in the opener against Alabama. He threw for 2,230 yards with 19 touchdowns and 11 interceptions that season.
Last year, Blackman started one game against North Carolina State. he threw for 421 yards with four touchdowns and an interception.
He's the only scholarship quarterback that's been on the roster for more than nine months and has been through the down times that the program has faced the last two seasons.
"He has been through a lot," FSU offensive coordinator Kendal Briles said.
"He was put in the fire early as a skinny freshman and he got beat up. Those things are tough to deal with as an 18-year old true freshman, let alone a fifth-year senior… Love James. James is an unbelievable kid. His passion, his competitiveness, his belief in himself. James is right where he needs to be. He’s hungry, and he wants to eat."
There isn't a player on the team that the other FSU players respect more than Blackman.
Stepping into that starting role as a true freshman with only a month of practices under his belt helped him earn that respect. He cemented it with his actions as a leader despite not being the starting quarterback in 2018.
Blackman, 6-foot-5, 195 pounds, was always on the sidelines attempting to keep the team upbeat despite the struggles that led to the first losing season for the program since 1976.
"When you cut me, I bleed garnet and gold," Blackman said.
"I believe (this is my team). I’ve been here. I put in a lot of work. I just feel like I did the things that were necessary to be able to say that."
But respect can only carry a quarterback so far. If he can't back it up on the field, it's wasted.
Briles has had the opportunity to work with Blackman since he arrived in December, and he's been very impressed with him both on and off the field.
"James, the way he plays the game, he plays it a little bit different than everybody else," Briles said.
"He does have that competitive passion and he is a great leader. His arm talent is really good. His accuracy is better so I like that about him. He’s a good decision maker. There’ve been times where he’s been a little loose with the ball, and we’ve addressed that. That’s the main thing. I tell those guys all the time that the number one thing you can have as a quarterback is predictability. I’ve got to know where that football should be going. He’s got to be on the same page as us offensively.
"I think he does have great ability. He’s not the best runner in the world, and he’s not the strongest arm in the world. But when you put everything together he’s a dang good quarterback."
Blackman is competing with Wisconsin graduate transfer Alex Hornibrook and Louisville transfer Jordan Travis for the starting job.
Travis arrived in December and was able to go through spring practice. Hornibrook didn't arrive until the summer and went through his first practice at FSU in August.
Hornibrook is the perceived main competition to Blackman for the starting quarterback position, though Travis is in the mix as well.
Hornibrook is an experienced starting quarterback that has played in many big games over the years, including an Orange Bowl win over Miami in 2017.
He's thrown for 5,438 yards with 47 touchdowns and 33 interceptions during his career.
"Alex is a guy that’s been through it. He’s a vet. You love having those older guys around. He’s seen it. He’s played a lot of games. He’s gone through the ups-and-downs of being the starting quarterback," Briles said.
"I’ve been really impressed with his knowledge. Coming in here and not having a spring like the other guys did and being able to learn and retain. He’s a smart kid…Whatever he does he’s going to be successful in life in general. And he’s got some play making ability about him. He runs a little bit better than you give him credit."
Hornibrook knew it was going to be tough to win the starting job when he committed to the Seminoles, but he is a believer in himself.
Since he's arrived he hasn't focused on what the other quarterbacks are doing, but is doing everything he can to win the starting job.
"One thing that I learned before being in a quarterback competition is that you’ve got to focus on yourself," Hornibrook said.
"You can’t really go out wide and look at each person and how you stack up. You’ve got to focus on yourself and if you’re getting better every day. I feel like I’ve been trying to do that and doing that so far. It’s been good competition."
The one area that Hornibrook wasn't going to be able to catch up no matter how well he did was in his relationship with his teammates compared to Blackman.
He just didn't have the time to build that type of relationship with the team.
But Hornibrook has come to Tallahassee with a work ethic that has impressed everyone and earned him a level of respect.
"I like the way he’s playing the game and he’s done a good job with the team," Briles said.
"The team really respects him, and that’s tough coming into an environment where you’ve got a guy like James, who everybody loves. He’s worked himself into everybody really respecting him and he’s done it by work and that’s it. He’s put in the time and I’m really pleased with where he’s at."
Reach Wayne McGahee III at email@example.com.
Florida State vs. Boise State
When: Aug. 31, 7 p.m.
Where: TIAA Bank Field, Jacksonville, FL
TV/Radio: ESPN/103.1 FM